The COP26 Summit – A cop out?
Stanley Murphy-Jones discusses the recent COP26 climate summit and what we can expect the nations of the world to do in the coming years.
Speaking at COP26, David Attenborough stated that ‘if working apart we have strength enough to destabilise our planet, then surely working together we are powerful enough to save it.’ It’s a powerful sentiment but have world leaders heeded his warnings?
Any mass meeting of world leaders planning to discuss climate change promises so much and often delivers much less, and with regard to the COP26 this at least somewhat rings true. For many countries already pledged to their net zero 2050 target, this summit required a reiteration of intent more than anything, whilst others decided to join the movement and some chose to stay at home. This article will explore the various pledges and events of the COP26, and ask whether these new targets are believable.
Starting with the good news, over 100 countries pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Countries representing 85 per cent of the world’s forests have indicated they will end deforestation in the next nine years. Deforestation being one of the primary climate change issues due to increased carbon dioxide emissions, means that this pledge (if it ever comes to fruition) is a substantial step in the right direction. Furthermore, £14 billion was placed down by 12 countries including the UK to aid this initiative. A similar target was set by a smaller group of countries 7 years ago, aiming to end deforestation by 2020, but this has, of course, been unsuccessful. However, this time countries such as Brazil have joined the pledge, and considering their current rates of deforestation, this is once again a very positive step. On top of this, a similar number of countries have joined the US in announcing measures to prevent millions of tonnes of methane from entering the atmosphere, but notably, China and Russia, two of the largest culprits for methane emissions are not among them.
Over 100 countries pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030
This brings us to one of the most pressing issues of the COP26, the absence of Vladmir Putin and President Xi. Currently Russia and China have set their net zero targets at 2060, a decade after those involved in the Paris agreement, but this is still significant if it were to come to fruition. However, if their current leaders don’t view a global climate summit such as the COP26 as worthy of their time, then how seriously can they be taking those targets? President Biden referred to President Xi’s absence as a ‘big mistake’ and accused China of ‘walking away’ from their climate responsibilities and this is a difficult statement to argue with, considering in 2017 they were responsible for a staggering 28 per cent of global CO2 emissions. On top of this, in 2021 they have emitted almost two times the amount of CO2 as the next highest country. It is impossible to suggest that President Xi’s absence from this summit does not indicate a blatant disregard for these figures and our global responsibility to change this story before it’s too late.
China were responsible for a staggering 28 per cent of global CO2 emissions
To end on a mixed note, one other major announcement was India’s new net zero target of 2070. This pledge has been met with mixed reviews, most taking the middle ground such as environmentalist Prof Niklas Höhne who said, ‘the date is late, but more important is that India committed to zero at all, which was thought to be unlikely by many’. What this target does mean is that now every major emitter has committed to a net zero target, which would be great news, if it wasn’t for the fact that every step forward these world leaders take seems to be immediately undermined by two steps back.
It seems utterly unbelievable that leaders would fly to a serious summit on climate change in private jets. Moreover it seems almost laughable that Prince Charles and Boris Johnson flew on separate private jets from Rome to Glasgow, on the same day to attend the summit! If ever you feel the need to question how we have found ourselves in this mess, look no further than that. I began with David Attenborough and I will end with another quote from his compelling, pleading address; ‘In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope, ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies, is why the world is looking to you and why you are here.’ Perhaps he is correct that at this point it is simply a desperate hope that summits such as the COP26 will do enough to save the planet, but if it is just a hope then we must at the very least ensure we have leaders competent enough to take these moments seriously.